The Media Myth Cycle

For eight years, we heard a lot about how the anti-Obamaites were crazy. They believed crazy things, they said crazy things, they posted crazy things on social media. The fact-checkers were working overtime to stem the tide of BS.

Well, they had a point. There was a lot of garbage out there. But there was also a lot of legitimate concern about what Obama was doing and a lot of legitimate opposition to his polices.

Trump is in power now. And we’re seeing the same thing: legitimate concerns but a whole lot of BSery too. Only this time, the BS isn’t being called out. The latest was in the wake of the AHCA’s passage. Many many media outlets and liberals claimed that Republicans had made rape a pre-existing condition for denial of health insurance or claims. Elizabeth Nolan Brown — no Trump supporter she — actually looked into this.

Yeah, it’s garbage:

None of this is true. Like, not even a little bit. And the fact it’s not just being shared by shady social-media activists and their unwitting dupes but by ostensibly-legitimate media outlets is another sad indictment of press standards these days.

Nothing in the new Republican health care bill specifically addresses sexual assault or domestic violence whatsoever. What it does say is that states can apply for waivers that will allow insurance companies, under certain limited circumstances, to charge higher premiums to people based on their personal medical histories—that’s it. (States that are granted the waivers must also set up special high-risk insurance pools to try and help defray costs for these people.) Under Obamacare, no such price variances based on preexisting conditions are permitted.

So far, the only examples offered as evidence that such discrimination is common have fallen far short. In CNN’s story, a woman’s insurance application was rejected for unspecified reasons that she believes were related to her history of domestic abuse, though the insurance company didn’t actually provide any reason. She was able to get health coverage from another insurer not long after.

In the story getting much more attention, a woman who had been sexually assaulted was prescribed anti-HIV medication as a precaution. When she tried to apply for new insurance coverage not long after, her application was denied because of a company policy against insuring anyone who had been on the HIV medication recently. The insurers did not initially deny her claim because she was a rape victim—they weren’t even aware of that information at first, though she says she did later inform them. If anything, the company is guilty of not treating this woman differently based on her history of sexual assault.

Be sure to read the whole thing. Many people immediately denounced Brown as, in her words, a “lying libertarian harpy”. But all the major news outlets are now admitting — haha! — she’s right. Some have only backed down to saying, “well, the PTSD or anti-retrovirals used as treatment for rape could be a pre-existing condition”. That’s true, but that’s not specific to rape. PTSD or anti-HIV meds from any cause could be classified as a pre-existing condition, depending on what exactly the states do with pre-existing conditions.

In all honesty, the Democrats are doing a huge disservice to this country by focusing on pre-existing conditions. I don’t mean to downplay the pre-existing condition issue, but this is a small part of the problem of people being uninsured. Almost everyone with an employer plan or a government is not affected by this and that constitutes 90% of the insured. At its peak, Obama’s program for people with pre-existing conditions enrolled a little over 100,000 people. Most people who are uninsured are uninsured because they can’t afford it or because they choose to spend their money elsewhere, problems Obamacare addressed but not well.

Pre-existing conditions are important on an actuarial basis for insurance companies because some of these people can be among the most expensive to insure. My wife and I sometimes joke that we are mostly paid in anti-MS meds. This is one of the reasons the Republicans want to split the pre-existing into high-risk pools (albeit underfunded ones) because that’s a big driver of soaring health insurance premiums. But the Democrats are focusing on the wrong thing here. Of the millions the CBO thinks will lose coverage under AHCA, the vast majority will lose it because they will lose subsidies or Medicaid, not because of pre-existing conditions.

Look, I’m willing to debate healthcare all day. There are real debates to be had about whether people have a “right” to health insurance or whether we should have universal coverage or single payer or whatever. We could look at Singapore’s system, which relies heavily on private insurance. Or Australia’s system, which has a single-payer floor but where the government covers a similar percentage of healthcare cost as ours does. Or no system. Fine.

But that debate needs to on honest terms. And claiming that women will be denied insurance because of rape is not having the debate on honest terms. It’s trying to frighten millions of voters. Which, I guess, is why the Democrats love it so much. Because it covers up their lack of ideas.

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